We've been on this road to hell for a long time, certainly since Humphrey and his boss LBJ escalated the Vietnam War into a debacle that remains to this day arguably the most misguided, costly and tragic foreign policy adventure ever undertaken by our government. A 25-year, multi-million-dollar Pentagon effort -- the Vietnam War Commemoration Project -- has been established to clean up that image, something that is doomed to fail. The point is, anyone who says there is no bi-partisanship in Congress is wearing blinders. When it comes to military, intelligence, surveillance and police expenditures, bi-partisanship is impregnable. Consider how the recent FISA national surveillance legislation -- ie., spying on the citizenry, something that should be controversial -- breezed through Congress and the White House two weeks ago.
A Personal Beef With Joe Biden
In the spirit of full disclosure, of all the various national and local politico celebrities I've asked a question of in public, the most galling and insulting response I ever got was from Joe Biden. Frank Rizzo once physically shoved me out of his path and almost knocked me on my ass; but that was nothing compared to Biden. And as will become clear later, his insulting response to me made sense.
It was the mid 1990s at Widener University south of Philadelphia. Senator Biden had come to make a speech on crime and the Drug War. At the time, he was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. I was in the second row. I raised my hand and he called on me. He walked over and stood right in front of me.
"Senator Biden, I've worked with a needle exchange program in Philly. I've talked about this subject with a number of people and have read up on things like Harm Reduction. So I'm curious what your position is on the idea of de-criminalizing drugs as a way of gradually weaning ourselves off the Drug War, which seems to be a failure?"
Biden chuckled in a public sort of voice so the audience could hear him. He pointed right at me.
"This man thinks he's smart," he said, looking at the audience with that patented Everyman Joe smirk. "He's carefully using the term "de-criminalize' when what he wants to do is "legalize' drugs across this nation. This guy wants to make heroin and crack legal and available for everyone to obtain."
I wanted to interrupt and say, "No, sir, that's not what I said." But he kept at it for a bit longer as he eased himself back to the center of the audience and pointed to another questioner. I took the beating and sat down.
Senator Biden is one of the architects of our current Drug War, especially in how it relates to federal resource-sharing with local police forces who desire the latest police gadgetry. His interests are not to lessen the stigmatization and criminalization of citizens in America caught up in the Drug War, many of them poor and black. Michelle Alexander has eloquently made this critique of the Drug War in her book The New Jim Crow. From the point of view of a poor, inner city black kid, drugs are too often a matter of free-private enterprise and about getting ahead as an entrepreneur.
The senator's insulting and disrespectful answer spoke volumes to me, and the conclusion I came to was that Senator Biden's mind was locked and he was using his leadership of the judiciary committee and his sausage-making talent with crime bills to continue to mobilize an international drug war notably opposed by most of the leaders of Latin America.
Joe Biden and the Drug War
Joe Biden's background is instructive. He made a name for himself in the Senate Judiciary Committee in the early Reagan years using crime bill issues to regain power for Democrats after they had lost the senate and the Presidency.
Biden had been on the famous Church Committee in the late "70s that investigated intelligence excesses. "The experience convinced him that crime should be viewed as a form of domestic security," writes Ted Gest in Crime & Politics: Big Government's Erratic Campaign for Law and Order. Biden's first effort in this vein was developing the National Security and Violent Crime Control Act. It was an "attempt to put crime in a defense context -- getting the armed forces involved in drug interdiction, for example."
This, of course, is the federal/local nexus that has been developed and beefed up over the years and was, of course, put on steroids after September 11, 2001, leading to the current rage for fusion centers. As a Democrat, Biden opportunistically rode the right-moving wave of the Carter demise and the Reagan ascendancy. It's clear he's a brilliant and effective politician.
The key for Biden to getting this crime legislation passed, Gest points out, was "important personal relationships ... especially between Biden and the new Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Strom Thurmon." Biden, 38, sought out the old Dixiecrat Thurmon, 78, and told him, according to Gest, "Mr. Chairman, no one expects this relationship to work, but there are a lot of things we agree on and a lot we don't. Why don't we agree on what we can and leave aside what we can't. If you do that, I promise that I will never embarrass you by publicly taking you on." Thurmon agreed to dance.
Biden's counterpart in the House was New Jersey Congressman William Hughes. "Re-establishing a strong federal narcotics policy was the first area where Biden and Hughes wanted to make a mark," Gest says. "Their main goal was to reverse the Democrats perceived weakness on drugs. ... Biden became convinced that federal anti-drug policy was a mess." The Carter White House, of course, had toyed with the notion of legalizing marijuana.